Book Reviews: Bird Box, The Hour I First Believed, The Sun Also Rises

Fiction--classics
-Americans abroad
-Hemingway is a real drag
-the Lost generation
-Pamplona, Spain
-Um, perhaps I'm missing something

The Sun Also Rises | Ernest Hemingway (read a Hemingway, Steinbeck or John D. MacDonald novel) ★★☆☆☆

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Published in 1926 to explosive acclaim, “The Sun Also Rises” stands as perhaps the most impressive first novel ever written by an American writer. A roman a clef about a group of American and English expatriates on an excursion from Paris’s Left Bank to Pamplona for the July fiesta and its climactic bull fight, a journey from the center of a civilization spiritually bankrupted by the First World War to a vital, God-haunted world in which faith and honor have yet to lose their currency, the novel captured

for the generation that would come to be called “Lost” the spirit of its age, and marked Ernest Hemingway as the preeminent writer of his time.“- Scribner

I know this story is supposed to shed light on the lost generation of soldiers recovering from the carnage of WWI, but it is one of the dullest tales I’ve ever read. I also understand that, written in 1926, using anti-Semitic terminology was acceptable, but holy crap Hemingway is savage. Nearly every action, reaction and minor character flaw of the Robert Cohn character was attributed to his Jewishness. From off-color remarks about the appearance of his nose, to haughty retorts by the others of not letting him “get superior and Jewish” I wanted to ask his ‘friends’, all equally as annoying as Cohn, just who’s being the superior jerk here? 

However, these cringe-worthy moments were some of the few occasions I had an actual reaction to the text. Plagued with shallow situations, forgettable characters and devoid of emotion, the uninspired prose barely registered throughout. Even in describing Hemingway’s beloved Spain and daring bullfights, the writing was unemotional and aloof. Perhaps the stilted style represented the wooden psyches of Jake and his friends as they searched for meaning in a post-war world, I don’t know. What I do know is Hemingway’s roundabout way of speaking and delivering storylines are better suited to his short story, Hills Like White Elephants and the more mature, The Old Man and the Sea. I could sense a bit of the later Ernest in his writing, especially during Jake’s fishing trip, but I require more than copious alcohol consumption, a fringe love interest rotating through every male character in the book (although, more power to ya Brett) and fascination with the intricacies of bullfighting to keep me interested.

Domestic fiction
-Columbine school shootings
-grandiose attempt, verbose reality
-psychological fiction
--whatever you do, DO NOT eat those Cheese-its

The hour I first believed: a novel | Wally Lamb (book with a candle on the cover) ★ 1/2☆☆☆☆

audio narrated by George Guidall (summon legend) ★★★★☆ Guidall’s voice sucks you right into the character’s mind, even if you don’t want to go there

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“Relocating to a family farm in Connecticut after surviving the Columbine school shootings, Caelum and Maureen discover a cache of family memorabilia dating back five generations, which reveals to Caelum unexpected truths about painful past events.”- HarperLuxe
Good exposition brought this novel to life, however, every other element of the plot killed it, in fact, annihilated wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Wally Lamb is certainly a fine writer in a few instances, but his novel suffered from too many ideas, each overstuffed with pathos. Did he want this to be a circumstantial investigation of the motives behind the Columbine shootings? A psychoanalytical criticism of a marriage on-the-rocks? A tragic peripetia of family saga? A commentary on the consequences of chaos theory? A study of bad decisions resulting from tragedy? A history lesson on the feminist roots of women’s prisons? An epistolary novel of 19th century Quakers? For pete’s sake, choose a lane man!
Apart from the matter-of-fact, yet careful handling of the events of the school shooting, the appearance of the only likable character in the form of their perceptive marital therapist, and the thought-provoking symbolism of the double ended candle imagery on the cover-I hated this novel. Lamb’s need to deliver every redundant detail of these unrelatable characters’ lives left me flicking through audio tracks faster than recognizing a bad pop song on the radio, but at least a pop song doesn’t make me want to drive into a lake (usually). With the 20-year anniversary of the Columbine shootings upcoming this spring, I thought this book may provide some tidbit of insight, or reflection on what we’ve learned as a society. It’s not what I wanted it to be, and worse, it was more depressing than reading the newspaper. 
Fiction--Horror
-Apocalyptic literature
-Dystopias
-suspense
--there's nothing to see here folks, move along
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Bird Box | Josh Malerman (book with a bird on the cover or in the plot) ★★★★☆
“In an apocalyptic near-future world, a mother and her two small children must make their way down a river, blindfolded. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them — but is it man, animal, or monster?”

Seizing upon human beings’ worst fear at the end of the world, the inability to see, Malerman captured lightning-in-a-bottle with this simple premise. From page one, the story hooks it’s talons in until you shake them off at the finish, dazed and stumbling and so grateful for the sight of the outside world. The setting is sparse and intimate, the characters believable and resourceful as they come together to secure a fragile respite from the ever-present threat. The bird box analogy works well; the characters themselves becoming the alarms to danger, especially the well-trained children when they are removed from their sanctuary cage and channel human bellwethers, guiding the survivors blindly upon the unknown river to an uncertain end.

Well-written apocalyptic stories are fascinating, I love the dissolution of society viewed from the inside, the rebuilding of an alternate world, finding solutions to specific problems, the building up of pressure, and the inevitable failing due to humanity’s weaknesses. This one plays out at a breakneck speed, the back and forth between the present river scenario and the past events is tense and compelling, even though the reader already knows the outcome. Illuminated by nuanced writing, infused with as much humanness as darkness and alternating with moments of true terror and hope, Malerman composed a masterfully suspenseful read. 

*I watched the Netflix original movie and it had some interesting moments, but it is truly unlike the novel in nearly every way except for the river escape. Don’t let watching it deter you from this book, and read it first if you can.

I was riding high on my Bookish Jay and Reading Mermaid challenge choices until these couple of major misses, but the end is in sight while Julie and I plot our next year’s challenge prompts, coming soon. My 2018 year in books recap will be finalized next week, hope to see you then. Are you reading anything exciting over the holidays?

4 thoughts on “Book Reviews: Bird Box, The Hour I First Believed, The Sun Also Rises

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  1. Just came here quickly to say YOU DID IT, YOU BESTED THAT ARSE HEMINGWAY! Now you never need to read a Hemingway novel again, the end. Also, I love/don’t love you frustration with Wally Lamb – that book sounds like a mess, but your casting about for a POINT to it all is outstanding. 🙂

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  2. Gah Hemingway. I am glad I decided to go with Steinbeck. You did get some great books in all and all so far. I am looking forward to reading your reflections on the whole year- bookish wise. I spent the morning with my friend Tricia gathering up some used books at the library and the Book Bazaar. I will have plenty of new books to choose from in 2019.

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    1. Steinbeck all the way, he wrote circles around Hemingway imo. A used book shopping trip sounds excellent, hope to see what you’ve nabbed. Bookish recap is up, crazy good and different year for my reading habits. I’ve enjoyed our chats❤

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